The figures are alarming: nowadays around one in three people worldwide is short-sighted. What is especially frightening is that myopia has increased rapidly in the last two decades. So many people have good close-up vision but poor long-range vision. A progression which mainly takes its course in childhood and in adolescence. If no action is taken during this time, there is a danger this will lead to visual impairments or even blindness as an adult. The Berlin-based start-up company Dopavision is currently developing a method that will use a digital, clinically proven therapy to reduce myopia in children and adolescents.
Innovation Origins spoke with Hamed Bahmani, Founder and Managing Director, and Stefan Zundel, Co-Founder and Managing Director, about their exciting development.
How did you come up with the idea for founding Dopavision?
Hamed: I was head of neuroscience research at the Flying Health Incubator in Berlin, where Stefan was involved in the development of new ventures. We knew that myopia is a huge problem worldwide and that it is on the increase. At the same time, we had this extraordinary idea for solving the problem by using light stimulation: That’s why we started Dopavision!
What are the specific application areas of your service?
Stefan: We are currently developing this therapy. The aim is to stop the progression of myopia in children and adolescents. It is important to know that myopia is progressive in these age groups, i.e. it worsens over time as the eye gradually grows too elongated. This allows the image in front of the retina to be sharply defined, while distant images are seen out of focus. Severe short-sightedness, e.g. 6 dioptres and higher, greatly increases the risk of subsequent complications in the eye. This is exactly what we want to prevent with our therapy.
Do similar things already exist or what makes Dopavision so special??
Stefan: The new idea behind Dopavision is to treat myopia via a digital application. This is not done by changing behaviour or through training. Our therapy produces a direct effect by using light stimulation: the neurotransmitter dopamine is activated in the eye and plays an important role in the rate at which the eyeball grows. The light stimulus can be generated by various digital devices such as a smartphone – the user would already have the right hardware in their pocket. Another plausible option would be to use VR glasses. We are therefore moving towards a completely new type of therapy referred to as “digital drugs”. By the way, worldwide there are very few of them so far.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in the beginning?
Hamed: We had to find the right team and find some initial funding in order to complete the proof-of-concept experiments. With the support of Flying Health, we succeeded at an early stage in securing funding from the BMBF’s “Industry-in-Clinic Platform” and consequently were able to carry out the experiments.
Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?
Hamed: Moments like these happen in the life of every entrepreneur. The main thing is to be aware of them, to overcome each of these moments as quickly as possible and to keep looking ahead.
And vice versa: What was the best moment for you with regard to the founding of Dopavision, what made you particularly proud??
Hamed: To me, the best moments are when I think of difficulties in the past and remember how easily we eventually managed to solve them. This is the greatest motivation for moving forward.
What can we look forward to in the next few years, more specifically: what can we expect from you in the coming years?
Stefan: This year we will be conducting tests on animals in order to further develop our therapy. This makes us one of the first start-ups worldwide – if not the first ever – to test a digital therapy using an animal model. Subsequently, clinical trials are being scheduled so that they may be approved as a medical device.
What drives you every morning?
Hamed: Seeking and resolving a new challenge every day!
What is your vision: Where do you see your company in 5 years and what is your ultimate goal?
Hamed: I envision Dopavision offering a medically certified solution for myopia used by millions, if not billions, of people.
“And who knows, maybe one day it will be possible not only to slow myopia down with smartphones, but to prevent it altogether as well – that would be a revolution. After all, smartphones are considered to be one of the causes of myopia because they are constantly being viewed at close range.”
Founders: Dr. Hamed Bahmani, neuroscientist & Stefan Zundel, former consultant and entrepreneur
Year of foundation: 2017
Funding: supported by BMBF through the Industry-in-Clinic Platform since June 2018, and seed financing round in May 2019
Number of employees:4 employees, in addition there are 2 vacancies to be filled: CTO and CMO/Chief Medical Officer
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